1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Fulgurite

FULGURITE (from Lat. fulgur, lightning), in petrology, the name given to rocks which have been fused on the surface by lightning, and to the characteristic holes in rocks formed by the same agency. When lightning strikes the naked surfaces of rocks, the sudden rise of temperature may produce a certain amount of fusion, especially when the rocks are dry and the electricity is not readily conducted away. Instances of this have been observed on Ararat and on several mountains in the Alps, Pyrenees, &c. A thin glassy crust, resembling a coat of varnish, is formed; its thickness is usually not more than one-eighth of an inch, and it may be colourless, white or yellow. When examined under the microscope, it usually shows no crystallization, and contains minute bubbles due to the expansion of air or other gases in the fused pellicle. Occasionally small microliths may appear, but this is uncommon because so thin a film would cool with extreme rapidity. The minerals of the rock beneath are in some cases partly fused, but the more refractory often appear quite unaffected. The glass has arisen from the melting of the most fusible ingredients alone.

Another type of fulgurite is commonest in dry sands and takes the shape of vertical tubes which may be nearly half an inch in diameter. Generally they are elliptical in cross section, or flattened by the pressure exerted by the surrounding sand on the fulgurite at a time when it was still very hot and plastic. These tubes are often vertical and may run downwards for several feet through the sand, branching and lessening as they descend. Tubular perforations in hard rocks have been noted also, but these are short and probably follow original cracks. The glassy material contains grains of sand and many small round or elliptical cavities, the long axes of which are radial. Minerals like felspar and mica are fused more readily than quartz, but analysis shows that some fulgurite glasses are very rich in silica, which perhaps was dissolved in the glass rather than simply fused. The central cavity of the tube and the bubbles in its walls point to the expansion of the gases (air, water, &c.) in the sand by sudden and extreme heating. Very fine threads of glass project from the surface of the tube as if fused droplets had been projected outwards with considerable force. Where the quartz grains have been greatly heated but not melted they become white and semi-opaque, but where they are in contact with the glass they usually show partial solution. Occasionally crystallization has begun before the glass solidified, and small microliths, the nature of which is undeterminable, occur in streams and wisps in the clear hyaline matrix.  (J. S. F.)